Numbers Don’t Tell the Story

The Heart of a Small Church: Part 5

“As a small church, the people in it need to believe they have a purpose in this vast kingdom of God and your wanting to feature us in an article is a gift from God,” wrote Pastor Janet Boyd when she was approached to write this article. 

By Pastor Janet Boyd*

Just north of our church building where we worship, the Mulhall Family Farm Barn still stands. The founding members of Bigelow United Methodist Church met there for weekly worship. The first sermons were written, and delivered at the family barn in 1824. The postal address of Bigelow UMC, which is Big Prairie, OH, reflects the setting that surrounds us.

Bigelo church members in sanctuary

Bigelow UMC is about as traditional a church as any rural church in the East Ohio Conference. We begin worship each Sunday in the same way as worship has always begun for many, many years. The congregation is a small group with a regular worship attendance of 15 members. Most are retired blue-collar workers, farmers, business owners, and we are proud to have a World War II veteran attend every Sunday as well. The average age of our faithful is 70+ years old, but, as the saying goes, “age is just a number.” There is a lot more to these folks than meets the eye.

Along with being a pastor, I am a special education teacher of children ages 3-5. I have learned that a disability is just a different method for learning. I also believe I minister in a very unique style due to the fact that I am actively ministering to two very different age groups on the developmental continuum.  My daily life with preschoolers is life in its most vibrant form; exhaustingly alive!  However, the wisdom and experience I receive from my parishioners is evidence of lives well-lived.  I am the favored recipient of the balance of extremes.

As for nurturing growth in a church such as this, I am invested in the belief that God is a Gardener.  He is in the process of planting the seeds for the harvest of righteousness which is on His timetable.  We all know, He doesn’t wear a watch!

It all started in the summer of 2017

Just a short year ago, seeds were planted when we heard the difficult story of a young woman. She did not speak of her difficulty while telling us of the commitment she had to a local youth program (we do not have a youth program – obviously – we have no youth!)  She spoke on behalf of the many others in the program who needed an opportunity to attend summer camp. We responded with the generous offering of sending three youth members to camp.  One of the recipients of the offering was that young woman.

Fast forward ahead to this past summer in 2018. Several members and I participated in a Bible Study on spiritual gifts.  We learned as new creatures in Christ we have been given gifts of grace. As a result of these gifts we learned of the grace our individual life stories provide. Our stories provide a foundation from which to begin to build a relationship with God.  The next stage in this life of a believer is crucial to our faith development – to step out in faith and to share the things that God has done for us, changing the focus of our lives.

Our discussions centered on the definition of ministry to include the concept of ministry being a ‘hand-up’ to others rather than a simple hand-out.  As we were soon to experience, the Spirit of God often moves in mysterious ways.

The Hand-up

My adult daughter was a volunteer in the local youth program in which our young friend was a member.  Their relationship was much like the positive influence of a more mature person toward the younger person spoken of in Titus 2:1-15  (I preached on this passage of scripture and the exegesis of the passage of scripture is as follows: Faithfully practice making Christianity attractive through your loving devotion to God.Our young friend graduated, and my daughter married this summer.  Each faced a huge life transition, particularly our young friend who was moving away from home for the very first time. She had been accepted with scholarship monies to attend Indiana Wesleyan University.  I knew the young woman’s transition must be one supported by the family of God.  We needed to use our gifts of grace in support of one who needed us.  Finally, and most importantly from a pastoral perspective, I knew our people needed a purpose.  As a small church, the people in it need to believe they have a purpose in this vast kingdom of God.

Our young friend’s dad had died this past year of a drug overdose. Her mother was not in a financial position to support her in this huge stride towards college.  So we stepped in and stepped up.

Throughout the month of July the “band of 15” plus pastor and friends collected gift cards for the supplies, necessities and accessories that any young college person would need. We also provided a new laptop and printer to help secure her success.

As I stood in the computer store with our young friend, my daughter, and another young woman from our church I noticed her expression.  I asked her later what she was thinking.  She responded, “no one has ever treated me this way before.”

On the final Sunday before her departure to college we invited her to church for a well-deserved send-off. At the end of the service, she and another young woman, a member’s daughter who was returning for another year of college, were called up to be acknowledged and presented with gifts. All members worshipping that day all came forward to lay hands on our young friends.

It is fair to stop a moment and give a focus on a past prayer moment.  Three years ago I invited members forward to pray for our members’ daughter as she was entering college, only a few members participated.

This time, with walkers and canes, all worshipers came forward to invest in this opportunity as presented by the Spirit of God.  There were not many dry eyes as we prayed to ask for God’s presence and support in the lives of these two courageous people.

Our young friend is in college now.  We will continue to be encouragers to her in this journey.

But there is one more moment to share in this story of God’s grace. There was almost an element of prophecy embedded in all of the events as they unfolded over those past several weeks.

During Annual Conference at Lakeside, two members of our church, a couple, attended the conference as lay delegates. We sat together during the many meetings and listened to the many messages.  Weeks had gone by since we had attended the conference. We were wrapping up the final Thursday of our recent Bible Study.

“Any final thoughts?” I asked.

The husband of the lay delegate couple responded, “Yes. I have been sitting here with the phrase ‘making disciples for the transformation of the world’ running through my thoughts. That is what we are doing for that young woman.”

My addition to that statement would be: that is what WE are doing, in response to God’s call on our lives, for a young woman who was put in our path.

Changing directions

As for the question of where do I think our church is going?  We are in the process of planning a commemorative service at the Legion to honor our veterans.  I am thinking this is a direction in which we can actually go and reach out rather than to sit and wait.

To God be the Glory!

*Janet Boyd is pastor of Bigelow United Methodist Church, Three Rivers District, Holmes County. 

Whether in a quaint, rural setting or in a bustling, ever-changing urban area, every church has a unique story to tell. Each works within its own story-line and parameters with its blessings and challenges. What’s your church story? We’d love to hear it! Contact